It was 7:00 am with the bright, golden sun rays sharply, warmly striking everything around including my face at the Mwizenge Sustainable Model Village in Chongwe outside Lusaka the Capital City of Zambia in Southern Africa. I was holding a cup of water in my left hand and brushing my teeth with toothpaste frothing on the sides of my mouth, when my eyes suddenly spotted something on the clear bare dirt that surrounds my hut, and I froze. About a thousand black stinging sisinya ants were marching in a long convoy 6 inches wide. Since I had no shoes when I was a boy growing up in the village, these sisinya ants had stung my bare foot twice. I had a swollen spot on my foot for two days and itching when my foot healed. Their sting is not deadly but painful.
I placed my tooth brush down and whipped out my cell phone. I began taking shots and making a video. Since I was young, I had never observed what these ants did. Since I am on sabbatical research leave, I was not rushing to anywhere. Breakfast could wait. I followed the massive sisinya ant convoy keeping safe distance since I was wearing flip flops. I could not see where they came from, but I was anxious to see their destination. The ants moved like waves of flowing water. The leading ant would move about five inches and then it would turn around and walk back into the crowd and another ant took the lead. They repeated this many times. Some ants were carrying white things in their mouths which were probably larvae. After a while the ants arrived at their destination; a small hole under a shrub in which they all entered. The mystery was partially solved as I did not know what the heck they all did down there and numerous other unanswered questions.
There is a cleared ground around my hut that separates me from nature for about 30 feet. Beyond and around I can hear numerous singing birds of different colors. They are all flying around the short bushes, shrubs, and trees. Bird watchers would know the names of these colorful birds but the Tumbuka indigenous names would be meaningless to outsiders which is most readers even contemporary Zambians. There is the tiny blue breasted sisi bird, the black mnthyengu, bright yellow and red mpheta, the titihoya, and the melody from one of them says Mbuye Yeso or “Jesus Christ”. Numerous different-colored butterflies are floating feverishly everywhere I look around in the bright sun. Many trees have flowers of different colors.
The brown dirt I am staring at as I wait for breakfast to be cooked is teeming with moving creatures and critters of all types. Small and large ants of different colors, small and large beetles, and some centipedes. During the first day when the men village residents were finishing building my small temporary toilet, the men killed three snakes without any drama. There are plenty of snakes around. But any snake here that shows up to people, that is a dead snake.
The reader might be wondering and probably thinking I would not want to live in this village if each time, say I want to go to the toilet sixty feet away, I have to jump a gauntlet of stinging ants and snakes laying on the yard. That is not the case. It is very safe. The answer to this is that people who live here in the village including this author have learned and accepted coexistence with nature. We do not have the desire, ability, or interest to obtain large gallons of dangerous chemical substances so that we can spray the dirt perimeter of the huts and in the huts themselves to kill everything around so that we can conquer nature and feel safe. This tends to be the Western or modern approach. In virtually all the villages, we clear just enough of the dangerous aspects of nature but learn to live within nature and not attempt to separate from or conquer it so that we can achieve absolute safety and security.
The grass, the bushes, and trees that are very green and growing very fast now will turn into thick brown tinder dry brush from May to November when it does not rain in the Savannah. People all over rural Zambia have a solution to problems of wildfires that could burn down grass thatched village huts; luphya or deliberately controlled set fires that burn down all the tinder/dry vegetation. All of it grows back again starting September, the rainy season of every year. This reminds me of the wildfires that devastated the West Coast that took many lives last summer. This is all because people with five PhDs in nature conservation and our misguided belief in the Western world about nature conservation which make us believe it is good to leave and preserve everything the way it should be: natural. From now onward, the whole country can learn from the villagers here, set luphya or deliberately set fires every year. That would be the safest approach to nature conservation; learn to live within nature and not apart from it.